Budget 2014: Free switch to digital TV for low-income by September

The gadgets needed to watch MediaCorp's digital television programmes will be installed for free in low-income households, under a scheme to be launched by September.

The Government will pick up the bill for the digital set-top box, indoor antenna as well as the installation of the equipment.

The move is to "ensure that low-income households can also benefit from digital TV", said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim on Monday, when he announced the digital TV assistance scheme.

About 160,000 to 170,000 Singaporean households are expected to qualify for it. One group that will qualify automatically is Singaporeans living in one- or two-room rental flats, or on ComCare programmes, including the Public Assistance Scheme.

Broadcaster MediaCorp began its digital transmission of TV programmes last December in several estates, including Bukit Batok, and will extend it to the rest of Singapore in the next two to three years. It is expected to discontinue transmitting in analogue format by 2020.

Meanwhile, homes given the the digital set-top box and antenna, which together cost about $130, will not have any interruption to their TV watching as these can also be used with analogue TV sets.

Families that are not included automatically can apply for the free package if their household monthly income is $1,900 and below, or per capita income is at most $600. Households with no income could qualify as well if the annual value of their home is at most $13,000.

But one mandatory condition for getting the free package is that at least one family member is a Singaporean.

Families with a pay-TV subscription or a TV set that already supports the digital format that MediaCorp is using will not be eligible for the package.

Dr Yaacob said the benefit of digital-TV signals is that they can be sent more efficiently than analogue ones, giving higher-quality images and sound. The move to digital format will also free up radio frequencies for new and better mobile services to be offered.

Help making the switch to digital

For years, odd-job worker Ronald Kwok has relied on an old analogue cathode ray tube television set to catch the daily evening news in his rental flat.

But an upcoming change to free-to-air TV - where the current analogue signals will be replaced with digital technology in 2020 - means that he will need a digital set-top box and antenna, which cost about $130.

It is a cost the 64-year-old is worried about, but Monday's announcement that the Government will install the digital equipment for low-income families brought some cheer to the Ang Mo Kio resident.

Mr Kwok and his wife, 65, have odd jobs - such as cleaning work at food centres - which can pay about $3 an hour.

Even so, the couple do not always get jobs and can go for weeks without work.

He also worries about his wife's outstanding medical fees.

His son works in the food and beverage industry and earns about $1,100 a month.

Mr Kwok's family gets food donations that the Thye Hua Kwan Seniors Activity Centre at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 receives, but these come irregularly.

"It would definitely help a lot if the new TV equipment is free. Otherwise, we will have to stop watching TV," said Mr Kwok in Mandarin.

kennyc@sph.com.sg

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